Last week several Mayan villages in the Toledo District were greatly affected by unexpected localized flooding. The National Emergency Management Organization in Toledo is carrying out an assessment to effectively address the needs of the affected families. Over the weekend, Senator for the NGO’s Osmany Salas along with Valentino Shal visited the Maya Village of San Benito Poite. Villagers there specialize in growing what is locally called “mata hambre”- the dry season corn crop. However, since the heavy rains, villagers are experiencing a food shortage. Salas shared what he saw and what needs to be done in order to help the families.
OSMANY SALAS, SENATOR FOR NGOs
“I had already seen things that concerned me about that community, it’s very remote; access via Santa Teresa Village; San Benito is actually not that very far from the border with Guatemala so it’s a very remote community. This past weekend the situation was even more worrying, water levels were much higher. Around this time of year it should be the dry season yet at San Benito the river was flooded, worse than when I saw it back in early November or so. The bridge into the community was completely submerged, raging water flowing over it and we accessed the village using the same suspended bridge but the water was quite high and the way out of the community we had noticed that the water was even higher, just about a foot or so beneath the suspension bridge- treacherous crossing for the people that live there. Very worrying was the matambe crop that the Mayan community so very much depend on, a lot of that had been totally damaged by flood waters, I think we had flash floods like three or four days ago. Talking to people from the community we estimated that between 50-60 acres of that corn crop had been damaged almost completely; that is devastating for them. The matambe crop; they depend on it tremendously. It holds them over through their main crop which I think it starts around the middle of the year so the fact that the ‘mata hambre’ crop has been affected this much it should be very alarming because it puts a direct hit on their food availability for the next few months. We should actually be harvesting that crop around now this month into next month, but a lot of it is already damaged. So what the people need in short term is food to carry them through what should be the dry season. They need help. They need immediate help. The time for planting is really gone for the season, like I said we should be harvesting and they wouldn’t be able to harvest sufficient to carry them through to the next major crop so they need help. So things could include corn, rice and beans for the most part.”
While Salas proffered a short term solution, Program Coordinator for the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcades Association, Pablo Mis, says that through a joint partnership between the Government and the villagers a long term solution for the problem should be found.
PABLO MIS, PROGRAM COORDINATOR, MLA/TAA
“Over the years we have noticed an increase in the erratic patterns of the weather particularly as it relates to some traditional practices of the Maya communities. This of course has impacts on the beans crop that has been planted by the farmers. We’ve also seen that there is an increase in the occurrence of massive flooding and this obviously again has created not only a direct threat to the property of Maya families but also there is the cultural produce. Last weekend on Friday night we had extreme hard rain that led to flooding much of the damages were concentrated around the watershed of the Moho River and major rivers and spilling out to low lying corn fields in particular. We saw the massive destruction of complete farms in the villages along the river like San Benito Poite, Blue Creek, moving along to Santa Ana and those areas. There are two angles or question to go on, one is the immediate need of the families that are affected, that immediate need needs to be sufficed first. It means in the next few months the corn crop will not be coming in so farmers will be forced to find other ways of survival. This is beyond the capacity of the Alcalde Association and the Maya Leaders Alliance to respond to, this really requires national intervention from the Government of Belize.”
The flooding destroyed about 60 acres of the villagers’ crop.